President Donald Trump is now saying the border wall that he promised Mexico would pay for will be paid for another way — by stripping away the defenses that protect Florida and the entire Gulf Coast from the threat of hurricanes, drug trafficking and natural disasters. This is one of the most irresponsible ideas from the new administration, and Congress should insist on a smarter approach that doesn't endanger national security in the guise of promoting it.
The cuts are contained in a budget for 2018 that Trump sent to Congress on Thursday. The blueprint would slash funding for three federal agencies that play a key role in protecting Florida. The $6 billion budget of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would be cut by at least $323 million. The Federal Emergency Management Agency would lose $667 million from its $6 billion disaster relief fund. And while the budget documents Thursday made no specific mention of the Coast Guard, an earlier outline from the White House showed its $9 billion budget would be cut 14 percent.
Trump wants to redirect the money to help accomplish his campaign promise to build a wall on the border with Mexico. But the savings would come at the particular expense of the nation's third-largest state. Florida relies heavily on these three agencies to protect its shorelines, millions of people and billions of dollars in property. To their credit, both Florida senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, are pushing back. Any marginal improvement that this money would have in securing the southern border would pale in comparison to the damage the cuts would cause to the nation's health and security across a much broader front.
The Coast Guard is America's first line of defense against drug, weapons and human trafficking. Last year, it responded to 16,343 rescue cases, saved 5,174 lives and seized more than 200 metric tons of cocaine. The Coast Guard also apprehended 6,346 illegal immigrants while patrolling U.S. waters and responded to dozens of hazardous incidents. Slashing its budget for a desert wall will only push traffickers to shift their criminal activities to sea.
NOAA, the storm-tracking agency, is best known in Florida for its hurricane-hunter missions that give millions of residents on the Gulf Coast early warnings that save lives and property. But beyond weather forecasting, NOAA plays a far broader role as the nation's lead science agency, from monitoring climate change to protecting coastal resources vital to the nation's health and economy. FEMA is the federal cleanup arm, helping people recover from natural disasters. After hurricanes Matthew and Hermine hit Florida last year, the agency paid out more than $100 million to state and local entities to help with recovery efforts.
These agencies need stable funding to be fully prepared to react. As the BP disaster showed, the nation's emergency response system can quickly be overtaken by an unexpected catastrophe. These cuts would undermine that level of readiness and only shift the threat from one part of the border to another.
The United States has many options beyond a wall for securing the border with Mexico, but the Coast Guard, NOAA and FEMA play critical and unique roles in protecting the Gulf Coast and the nation from both man-made and natural threats. Allowing a wall to cause a breach elsewhere in the nation's safety net makes no sense. And it's certainly a bad policy that endangers the people and economy of Florida.